Playing Harold Wanyama


Battle for Migingo (Round 1), 11.02.2012

My preparation for Harold Wanyama focused on two main areas:

1. The Chebanenko Slav (1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 a6): I thought he’d expect me to play my usual King’s Indian but I wanted to surprise him with this. Most of my time went into looking at the Chebanenko. But it seems the Ugandans did not want to play anything I was familiar with. Both Harold and Bibasa avoided playing 1.d4.

2. The Polugaevsky Variation of the Najdorf. This is what happened.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 b5

Position after 7...b5. White to play.

This move invites White to play 8. e5, directly trying to refute black’s extravagance (he’s behind in development isn’t he?). Black’s main idea behind this is to gain a tempo in the traditional variations that result from the more common 7…Be7. E.g black can go …b4 quicker and thereby nullify knight sacrifices on d5. In some blitz games I have played with Wanyama, he has chosen to play 8.Qf3. After 8…Bb7, white doesn’t get as much as in the 7…Be7 lines. So when he played…


…I was surprised. For one, I didn’t think Wanyama would go in for a variation where opening preparation takes precedence over chess skill, especially against me. Second, Wanyama likes to improvise and this variation doesn’t give allowance for that…at least not in the opening to early middle-game phase, since almost everything is mapped out.

8…dxe5 9.fxe5 Qc7 10.exf6

Another surprise. I really thought he would go for the 10. Qe2 line because what happens now, in terms of opening play, is too concrete/mapped out.

10…Qe5+ 11.Be2 Qxg5 12.0–0

Another possibility is Bronstein’s 12. Qd3!?, keeping open both castling options and challenging the scope of Black’s queen activity. Wanyama mentioned in the post-mortem he may have played this. I have to admit, if he did, I didn’t know the follow up for black! That would have been suicide as it’s far easier to play white than black if both players run out of theory.

Position after 12. 0-0. Black to play.


It’s hard to believe but this is the best move! The Polugaevsky is a strange variation. Classical conceptions of positional play go out the window. White appears to have an almost decisive advantage in development. Black has only one piece out and that also a queen. But Grandmaster Polugaevsky found an exception to the normal rules. By pure coincidence, the e6 and b5 pawns and the ‘undeveloped’ f8 bishop and b8 knight take away key squares from white and black’s queen exerts great influence on the dark sqaures where it seems unopposed. Once you get passed the classical positional conditioning, you begin to see black is ok and this is all very playable.


Usually, white drops the knight back to f3 with gain of tempo and clears the d-file. Wanyama thought 13.Kh1!? was not best but it can transpose e.g 13. Nf3 Qe3+ (Wanyama thought this was weak but I point out that I was going to play it and Leko was an afficianado of the idea. The black queen is not easy to molest despite it’s advanced position.) 14. Kh1.


This is a key idea in many Polugeavsky sub-variaitons. The rook develops on a7 and wants to go to d7 where it will simply seal black’s position against any attacking ideas white may have. 


Position after 14. fxg7. Black to play.

The first critical position of the game. Again I was expecting 14. Nf3. Wanyama’s move took me out of ‘the book’. I saw 14…Qxg7? is simply stupid because after 15. Bh5 black is crushed (With the f7 pawn pinned, white plays something like Ne4 next with enormous pressure). But I had a big problem visualising the follow up to the correct 14…Bxg7. For one, he was sure to drop his knight back to f3. Then I was wondering which square was the best to retreat my queen to and I was not liking what I was seeing. I even thought Wanyama had managed to con me in the opening. Then I spotted my 15th move.

14…Bxg7 15.Nf3

Position after 15. Nf3. Black to play.

Now where do I put my queen? There is only one move and I found it. I discovered this move by the process of elimination: A) 14…Qe3 15. Qd6 and black becomes a spectator. B) 14…Qc5 15. Ne4 and white lands on d6 with a great game. C) 14…Qc7 15. Ne4?!. I thought the knight again lands on d6 with great effect. But this was superficial analysis of this branch of the tree of analysis. And it should have been a warning signal to me because I made similar superficial analysis in other lines in not only this game but all other ones and it cost me. This move is not the refutation of 14…Qc7 because 15…0–0 leaves black slightly better since white no longer has access to d6. Simple. In post-mortem Wanyama showed me the correct move: 15. Bxb5! This shows I may have had the better of the opening but he was calculating more cleanly. 14…Qf4! looks funny. It puts the queen in the firing line of the f1 rook. But white can take no advatage of that as the knight will have to jump to some useless square on d2,e1 or g1 to uncover the attack. And I keep watch on the e4 square on which white wants to put his knight.

15…Qf4! 16.Bd3

Taking control of e4.


Now black in on his way to consolidating. I realised that it was just a matter of bringing the c8 and b8 fellas into the look of things and I would have a fine position…I would control both sides of the board. I began to feel positive at this point.


White had to play with precision in order to maintain the delicate balance. Wanyama fails to see my next move (which wasn’t so hard to see). This increased my confidence as he was showing signs of fumbling. But unfortunately, together with this confidence came a lack of proper tactical vigilance. Perhaps I should have maintained repsect and even fear for Wanyama at this point. It would have made me more thorough in my calculations! This was my first psychological mistake.


Wanyama, via some grimaces and tongue clicks and shaking of the head showed disgust for his 17.Ne4 move. His next move is easy but he still thought for a long time here, coming to terms with the change in the landscape. Black has a clear advantage. He didn’t like that.


Position after 18.Ng3. Black to play.

I had my second long think here. I wanted to play 18…Nc6 and get my remaining pieces active but didn’t want to exchange off my strong g7 bishop after 19. Nh5. Then I saw 18…Bxb2 and after some calculation thought why not…it keeps my dark squared guy alive and bags a pawn in the process. I thought I deserved some concrete material advantages in return for all the work I had done thus far. I mean, I have outplayed Wanyama until this point.

18…Bxb2! 19.Rb1

The second critical position of the game. Before I go into further discussion I want to point out another shallow piece of calculation by me. When I decided to take on b2, I thought I would simply retreat my bishop to c3 after 19. Rb1 and have a really good position. I saw 20. Ne2 AFTER making the move. That was dumb of me. Fact is, the good position went to my head. I couldn’t control my emotions and get down to serious calculation. Another thing is that I now realise I didn’t have the neccessary hunger for victory required to get myself into the discipline of calculating to the best of my ability. It wasn’t there on the day. I was looking for an easy way out i.e that my opponent should collapse all by himself in the next 5–10 moves. I think the poor standard of opposition in Kenyan tournaments has created this psychological weakness in me because that collapse in 5–10 moves from such a position is exactly what happens in a Kenyan tournament! And not seeing 20. Ne2 (even though white still has nothing here) messed me up further. The slide begins at this point.

Position after 19. Rb1. Black to play.


Black at least maintains balance but now it becomes enormously complex and we get the kind of improvising middle-game position in which Wanyama is simply far better than me. I could have retreated back to g7 but I again didn’t want to exchange off the bishop with 20. Nh5. However, calm thought would have indicated to me a clear difference from the other move sequence where white goes Nh5…I am now a pawn up! And taking on g7 by white means I have pressure on the g-file…this would have distracted white from q-side operations. Now Wanyama sets fire to the board.

Position after 19...Ba3?. White to play.


This is classic Wanyama. Detonating the nuclear explosions.


Finding the best move is very difficult. I don’t think I am capable of finding the best move here. The position is too random for my taste and does not fit in my pattern recognition templates (but this position is very much to Wanyama’s taste!). So I played the move that I could make sense of best. Another candidate move I had in mind was 20…b4? I thought this would close up the positon and kill the tactics overload. Wanyama in the post-mortem said he had a feeling that with my a3 bishop out of play this must be good. At home, Fritz unleashed a devastating piece of analysis to support his hunch:

Analysis position. White to play.

21.Bxf5!! exf5 22.Qd5+

A) 22…Kh8 23.Qc5!! Raf7 24. Ne5 and white get’s a decisive material advantage.

B) 22…Kg7 23.Nh5+ white wins.

C) 22…Raf7 23.Ne5 Qg5 24.Nxf7 Rxf7 25.Qa8! again picking up material

D) 22…Be6 23.Qxe6+ Kh8 24.Ne5 Qh4 25.Rxf5 Black’s king is fatally exposed.

21.Nd2 Qc7 22.Nxc4?!

Offering black a chance to re-establish some advantage. The move looks natural but under the Fritzian microscope, the correct move is: [22.Bxc4 Now black’s e6,f5 structure is put under enormous pressure (Qb3, Re1 etc is coming) and to defend, black has to find very accurate moves which would have been impossible for a weak human like myself. ]


After placing my bishop here I saw that g1 is under control and already developed dreams of Rf6 then Qxg3 then Rh6 checkmate etc. But this proved to be wishful thinking.


Wanyama could have tried 23. Bxf5!? exf5 24. Qd5+ Kh8 25. Rxb8 Qxb8 26. Qxc5 when the position is in chaos.


I could have played the ‘safe’ 23…Qe7 by getting out of the pin. But honestly, there is nothing safe here. The position is unclear. It’s anybody’s game. When Wanyama detonated it with 20.c4! he knew what he was doing. He got exactly the kind of position he likes. I hate these chaotic positions. But every now and then you have to live with them. You can’t avoid them. I have never seriously trained myself in these sorts of positions. The move I make is simply a blunder. But within my framework of thinking it is logical. It works against Kenyans. Can’t work against Ugandans.  [23…Qe7 24.Ne5 Rc7 25.Qb3 Nd7]

24.Ne3 Bd7??

This quickens the end. But it was already lost. I was completely confused at this point. It was hard having known I had a clear advantage not too long ago and now I didn’t even understand the position.

25.Bxf5 Kh8 26.Ne4 Rxf5 27.Nxf5 exf5

I resigned. Full credit to Wanyama for having changed the nature of the position when I least expected it.  1–0



  1. RC · February 14, 2012

    this is an incredible piece of analysis , it should be the norm.

  2. Magnum · February 17, 2012

    Bf5!! followed by Qd5+ is juicy…

  3. aideedystopia · February 18, 2012

    I will put up the annotations of my game against Arthur soon.

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